Political crimes in the transition to modernity: Anthropological perspectives


  • Bjørn Thomassen Roskilde University


political crime, transition to modernity, classical traditions, political revolutions, crowd behaviour


We live in a period heavily, and perhaps uniquely, characterised by a popular and political focus on crime. In taking up the invitation to contribute to this special issue, this article is intended as a reflection on the question: what can an anthropological contribution be to the question of political crimes? The reflection consists of three interrelated parts. In the first part, the author wishes to address what is meant when we use the words ‘crime’ and ‘political’. In the second part, he discusses how the social sciences emerged in the late 19th century as a reflection on the nature of crime in the transition to modernity. The importance of some almost forgotten “classical traditions” is stressed. In the third part, he briefly indicates how the most celebrated political revolutions within the European tradition, including the French and the Russian Revolutions, are critically tied to the emergence of new forms of political crime originating in crowd behaviour. The framework elaborated throughout the article relies on contributions of classical anthropologists and sociologists, who, although known figures, have thus far remained peripheral within political anthropology: Ferdinand Tönnies, Gabriel Tarde, Marcel Mauss, Gregory Bateson, Victor Turner and René Girard.